Laguna Beach school board candidates talk child care, term limits

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(Clockwise) Amy Kramer, Jan Vickers, Sheri Morgan, and Kelly Osborne.

About 100 households logged on Monday for a Zoom forum where Laguna Beach Unified school board candidates shared their views on offering child care, term limits, and more.

The event was co-hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach and KX FM 104.7. Pam Estes, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, moderated the panel including Amy Kramer, Sheri Morgan, Kelly Osborne, and Jan Vickers. The discussion coincided with the first day of in-person classes for Laguna Beach elementary classes.

The two board members elected on Nov. 3 would be sworn-in to the Board of Education on Dec. 17. A decision about when and how to resume in-person instruction at Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School is expected before the first trimester ends on Nov. 20.

There appeared to be a consensus among all four candidates on Monday that the district should launch a child care program for Laguna Beach families during the pandemic.

“I would support the district providing funding for childcare while schools are closed or partially open,” Kramer said. “It’s evident that our lives are intertwined with the schedule of children’s education. We plan our working lives, our personal time, and how we balance our finances around the functioning and schedule of school.”

Kramer pointed to a $3 million emergency reserve that the district could tap for funding.

Board member Jan Vickers said she was open to exploring the child care program, adding that the district might need to seek approval from county or state officials to spend the reserves that Kramer mentioned.

“It’s not at all an unfavorable concept,” Vickers said. “I would have to do more research on it.”

Osborne also suggested that the district could appeal to private funders.

“I think there are a couple of ways to go about it, maybe looking at partners in the community that might be able to enrich learning experiences for students, especially for low-income, especially for English learners who have been most negatively impacted by the pandemic,” she said.

In light of the unusual circumstances, the school district could possibly partner with the Boys & Girls Club to expand child care programs it’s already operating.

“The board has done a phenomenal job saving money over the last many years,” Morgan said. “We had a 25% increase in our property tax in just the last four years and they’ve built a very nice reserve fund. This is an emergency situation and that’s when we should be using and tapping into something like that.”

Estes also asked the candidates about whether the would support adopting term limits if elected.

“I think I’m the featured person that this question is around and I respect that,” Vickers said.

The veteran board member has been on the school board in her current tenure since 2000. She first ran for office in 1992, motivated by the closure of Aliso Elementary school.

On Monday, Vickers said the school board recently agreed to hold a discussion on term limits in the near future.

“I will say there were two times I was appointed to the board because there was no election held, there were no challenging candidates to the incumbents that were up for reelection,” she said. “There were other times where there might be one other candidate.”

Kramer and Morgan have been vocal this year about the need for new blood on the school board. Both support the idea of term limits for board members.

“I originally thought two terms would be the right amount of time but then I was told by somebody that if they’re brand new and don’t know much about the board then it’s going to take 12 years,” Morgan said.

Morgan added she’s flexible about increasing the limit to three terms. Kramer agreed that a three-term limit would be appropriate.

“I do believe that knowledge is important and I also believe that getting a fresh perspective from different people and seeing that turnover and excitement happen is really important,” Kramer said.

Osborne didn’t take the same hardline in advocating for term limits, adding that having experienced and skilled board members was valuable during her time as president of school site PTAs and the Laguna Beach Unified Council of PTAs.

“The concept that just because someone has served for a long time and that should be stopped with a term limit, I don’t see a need for that as long as they’re still contributing in touch with what’s happening on in the community,” Osborne said.

Click here for the KX FM 104.7 link to an audio recording of the candidate forum.

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